THE YUMA MASSACRE OF 1781
|Garcés returned from the second Anza
expedition over three months behind the rest of the party. He had left
the group ten months before to explore the possibility of a northern route
from Santa Fe to Monterey. His journey took him up the Colorado, where
he cultivated a friendship with the river natives, far into the San Joaquín
Valley of California and on to the Hopi mesas of northern Arizona. He was
at Oraibi on July 4, 1776. When he returned to San Xavier in September
of that year, the dream that he shared with Anza of a presidio at Tucson
was becoming a reality.
Anza probably never saw the establishment at Tucson. After his epic journey he traveled to Mexico City to report to the viceroy, then returned to Horcasitas, where he continued as military commandant of Sonora. Soon he would move to New Mexico as its new governor.
With the completion of the presidio, Garcés' spirit was again restless. He dreamed of founding missions on the Gila and Colorado Rivers, beginning with a permanent lifeline along the middle and lower Gila on the trail to California. Teodoro de Croix, first commandant general of the northern provinces, had other ideas.
Armed with viceregal powers that settlers on the northern frontier had never dreamed of, he insisted on Yuma as the first link in the chain to California. Shortcuts in the desert are often fatal and this decision proved to be devastating. With more than two hundred years of mission history to warn him, Croix dared to attach a Spanish settlement to a new mission beyond the frontier. The result was the Yuma massacre of July, 1871.
One of the pioneers at Yuma was Maria Ana Montielo, author of the following account. The frontier was not exclusively a man's world but at the time women were not accustomed to composing official reports. Her handwriting was far superior to that of most frontier men of her era, but her story must have been difficult to write. Her husband, Ensign Santiago Islas, commander of the Colorado settlements, had been killed in the uprising as she looked on. The document was penned four years after the massacre at the request of Father Francisco Antonio Barbastro, superior of the Franciscan missions of Spanish Sonora. It provides historians with important, previously unpublished details of the uprising, and the feminine viewpoint adds richness to the report.
TO FATHER FRANCISCO ANTONIO BARBASTRO.
In your much appreciated letter, Your Reverence asked me to comment on, as you phrased it, "the events surrounding the death of the missionaries on the Colorado River."
Father Juan Barreneche celebrated the first mass that morning [July 17, 1781], which I myself attended. Father Francisco Garcés had the second mass. His mass-server was Ensign Santiago Islas, my deceased husband. As my husband was moving the missal from one side of the altar to
the other for the gospel of the mass, the war whoops of the Indians began.
Corporal Pascual Baylón was the first to fall into their hands. As they were putting him to death with their war clubs, Father Juan Barreneche rushed out just in time to force his way through the yelling Indians and witness the corporal's last act of life as he squeezed the good padre's hand. Though battered by war clubs, Father Barreneche was able to regain the sanctuary of the church. My husband had observed a few armed Indians arriving in the village before he left for the service. As commander of the Colorado settlements, he took the precaution of placing Baylón on temporary guard, never dreaming that a full rebellion of the Yuma nation was about to break out. Though the mass was already begun, Father Garcés cut it short when the battle started.
Realizing that the whole Yuma nation had risen up against us, I gathered the women together and we fled for our lives to the church. There we found more refugee Spaniards arguing with Father Garcés about who should be blamed for the uprising. "Let's forget now whose fault it is," Father Garcés replied, "and simply consider it God's punishment for our sins." His voice was compassionate, though his face was an ashen gray.
That night the Yumas began to burn our houses and belongings and kill as many of our people as they could. That was the night my heart was broken, when my beloved husband was clubbed to death before my very eyes.
As day dawned on the 1 8th of July, Father Barreneche encouraged those of us who were still alive with the words: "The devil is on the side of the enemy, but God is on ours. Let us sing a hymn to Mary, most holy, that she favor us with her help, and let us praise God for
sending us these trials." With great fervor of spirit, he intoned the hymn, "Arise, arise!" All during the night, he and Father Garcés had moved stealthily about the village, administering the sacraments to the wounded and dying, consoling them in their hour of death.
When the hymn was finished, Father Barreneche offered mass for all of us, as we awaited death at any moment. After mass, he occupied himself by pulling out arrows and spears from the walls of the church and the houses and climbing up onto the roofs to review the movements of the enemy.
About three o'clock in the afternoon, when the Indians had finished killing Captain Rivera and his party on the other side of the river, Father Barreneche arrived from ministering to the last of the dying and told us that each of us should try to escape as best we could. He picked up his breviary and crucifix and, together with Father Garcés, the women, and the rest of the people, started out of the settlement, leaving behind forever the new mission of La Purisima Concepcion and its property and possessions. He asked Father Garcés if they should perhaps try to reach our other settlement. Father Garcés assured him that it was completely destroyed and its inhabitants killed.
Father Barreneche was following the trail of blood of a wounded man named Pedro Burgues, who had sent for him to come and hear his confession. The trail led across a seemingly shallow lagoon. The priest waded in, armed with crucifix and breviary. Before he knew it, he was in over his head. Though he did not know how to swim, he thrashed about till he was able to grasp a log and some roots. By pulling himself along the roots, he was able to reach the other bank. Though he miraculously escaped drowning, he lost his breviary and crucifix.
From here, the two fathers went on alone. We women stayed beside the lagoon. Father Garcés warned us: "Stay together, do not resist capture, and the Yumas will not harm you." With this, he plunged into the lagoon to join Father Barreneche on the other side. This was the last we saw of the two fathers as we sat huddled together awaiting death at any moment.
Through another Spanish woman captive, who was not with my group, I later learned that Fathers Garcés and Barreneche were not killed until three days later [July 21, 1781]. After leaving the lagoon, the fathers were discovered by a friendly Yuma whose wife was a fervent Christian. He hurried the fathers to his own rancheria, where his wife was waiting.
The enemy fell upon them as they sat in the Yuma's dwelling, drinking chocolate. The rebel leader shouted: "Stop drinking that and come outside. We're going to kill you."
"We'd like to finish our chocolate first," Father Garcés replied.
"Just leave it!" the leader shouted. The two fathers obediently stood up and followed him.
The Indians tell the story that at the first attack of the executioners, Father Garcés disappeared from their sight, and they were left clubbing the air. Word had spread among the Yuma nation that he was more powerful than their own witch-doctors. Time and again I heard that many of the Yumas did not want to see the fathers killed. Nevertheless, their blood was spilled, and the woman who told me of this was close enough to hear their pitiful moans as they lay dying. The husband of the pious woman recovered their lifeless bodies and buried them.
The woman who told me this was Gertrudis Cantud, wife of the wounded man that Father Barreneche was
following to hear his confession when the fathers crossed the lagoon.
This is all I can remember to tell Your Reverence concerning the ill-fated settlement of the Colorado River, Mission La Purisima Concepcion, and the rest of the territory we traveled until the fathers left us beside the lagoon.
MARIA ANA MONTIELO12
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Desert Documentary by Kieran McCarty - Chapter 9
Tucson, Arizona: Arizona Historical Society, 1976.
© 1976 The Arizona Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.